Spotlight on techies as film academy looks to the future

25th March 2011 at 00:00
With British film industry under threat, supporter puts faith in high-skills workforce

The King's Speech may have swept the board at the Oscars, but film industry veterans say the UK faces increasing competition for investment from locations ranging from eastern Europe to the Dominican Republic.

That is one reason why the film industry is backing a new Craft and Technical Academy at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College, which will try to ensure that if Britain does not compete on price, it can nevertheless have some of the most accomplished workers.

Iain Smith is the producer of movies such as Children of Men and The Fifth Element and chairman of Skillset, the sector skills council for the creative industries, which set up the academy. He believes the film industry needs an established technical training route to cope with technological changes and increased competition.

He said: "In times of great change, the thing to do is emphasise the need for retraining, education and new-entrant training to keep the industry as fit as possible. It's crucially important with the changes that are going on in the film industry with the move to digital technology.

"Now we are competing against countries such as Canada and Australia, eastern Europe . Malaysia has just built a film studio, as has the Dominican Republic. And often they're supported with tax credits. We can't rest on our laurels."

Historically, the film industry used on-the-job training or expected people to train themselves, Mr Smith said, which did not necessarily mean it attracted the best candidates. "It was prone to nepotism. People knew people who could give them an opportunity," he said.

"As a film producer, I get many letters and emails from people because there's a huge demand to work in the film industry."

The academy will offer a route to technician roles in the industry as an alternative to the film schools' emphasis on directors, producers, writers and cinematographers.

It is intended to provide training for some of the industry's shortage occupations, as revealed by Skillset's research - camera, lighting, hair and make-up, editing, animation, runners, grips and wardrobe.

Courses will run for one or two years and include on-set training, practical workshops and assessment. "The teaching will be very hands-on; they will be working on set with attachments and apprenticeships," Mr Smith said.

The academy will also accredit the skills of people already working in the industry who do not have formal qualifications.

Mr Smith said that production companies would use the academy as a source of "set-ready" talent, offering work placements to build up experience and contacts. "Particularly in technical areas, people are always looking for new blood. They will know this is a supply of well-trained people rather than just having people come off the street," he said.

Ealing, Hammersmith and West London was chosen for the academy as part of a tender process.

College principal Paula Whittle said "We are proud to be part of a project that focuses on what is needed by employers and that will provide a solid foundation for competition on a global stage."

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